October 18, 2000
His Excellency Ehud Barak
Prime Minister of the State of Israel
Office of the Prime Minister
3 Kaplan Street
The Committee to Protect Journalists (CPJ) is gravely concerned about the recent attack on two transmission towers and other technical facilities used by the Voice of Palestine in the West Bank city of Ramallah.
The attacks took place at around 5 p.m. on October 12, according to international news reports and CPJ sources. The attacks briefly knocked the radio station off the air, but it quickly resumed broadcasting on an FM frequency.
The Israeli army has acknowledged that it deliberately targeted the radio towers. Military spokesman justified the attack by charging that the station had incited Palestinians to commit violence. The Reuters news agency quoted Major General Giora Eiland, head of the Israeli Army’s Operation Branch, as stating that Palestinian television broadcasts of Palestinians dragging an effigy of an Israeli solider had incited the mob attack in Ramallah in which two Israeli soldiers were killed.
Article 79 of Additional Protocol 1 to the 1949 Geneva Conventions specifically recognizes the civilian status of journalists “engaged in a professional mission in areas of armed conflict.” This protection has generally been accepted as part of customary law, and is therefore binding on all states.
While media workers are generally considered civilians in all situations, a broadcast facility could become a legitimate military target under certain limited circumstances. Most experts on international humanitarian law concur that a broadcast facility loses its civilian immunity if it is used for military communication or as part of a systematic effort to incite and coordinate violent attacks. Based on our analysis of Voice of Palestine programming – including examples cited by Israeli authorities – there is no evidence that this standard has been met. In fact, journalists we spoke with have described Voice of Palestine radio as an important source of information about events taking place in the West Bank and Gaza.
As an organization of journalists dedicated to the defense of press freedom around the world, we urge Israeli forces to respect international humanitarian law and refrain from attacking media facilities. Such attacks place all journalists covering wars at risk by potentially undermining their civilian immunity.
Ann K. Cooper